Victor Fernandez, executive director of insights and knowledge at TDn2K, called August a “tale of two different periods” for the restaurant industry. Coming off a troubling July, where traffic plummeted 4.7 percent, August began with a shot of optimism. Then, Mother Nature and a boxing match showed up.
For August, restaurant same-store sales fell 2 percent and traffic declined 3.9 percent across the industry. Both were a 0.7 percentage point improvement over July.
But as Fernandez alluded to, it was a rocky ride.
“In the first three weeks of the month, same-store sales were down 1.4 percent, a significant 1.4 percentage point improvement over July. Same-store traffic was down 3 percent. Although still negative, this was an improvement over recent results,” he says. “Results from the final week of August were very soft, with two major events impacting results.”
The more extensive event being Hurricane Harvey and its historic impact on Houston and the state of Texas. Same-store sales in the Lone Star State dropped 15 percent the week it hit, almost 13 percentage points below the average for the first three weeks of the month.
Texas’ performance trimmed the national sales results by more than a percentage point in the final week and 0.3 percentage points for the entire month of August. TDn2K, an industry tracker that gathers sales and traffic results from more than 193 DMAs representing 120-plus restaurant brands and over 22,000 units, says the weight of Harvey’s impact will “continue for months.”
With Hurricane Irma now tracking toward Florida, weather is far from done playing a role in this conversation.
The highly anticipated Floyd Mayweather–Conor McGregor fight, which took place on the final Saturday of the month, produced an estimated 4.5 million pay-per-views. Naturally, this affected a prime dining-out night for restaurants. Some brands, like Dave & Buster’s and about half of Buffalo Wild Wings, forked up significant cash to show the event. At about $30 a guest (according to capacity), plus fees, airing the event cost chains millions. For many brands that chose to avoid it, the decision undeniably resulted in a traffic hit.
“Casual dining bar and grill concepts, which often feature sports and specials in their bars, had an improvement in sales for the week. Full-service segments with less emphasis on sports and televised events (fine dining and upscale casual) saw a severe negative impact,” TDn2K says.
TDn2K’s latest Market Share and Industry Growth Report shows that quick service and fast casual units continue to gain market share. While fast casual is struggling with same-store sales, its total sales are still reporting considerable growth, the report says. However, “family dining and, to a larger extent, casual dining continue to lose share. Not only is casual dining experiencing continued sales declines, but net growth in locations has remained flat over the last few quarters,” TDn2K says.
Consumer spending isn’t accelerating, either.
“The economy expanded moderately in the summer, though the hoped-for acceleration didn’t occur,” says Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors and TDn2K Economist, in a statement. “Job growth was decent but nothing great. Indeed, for the first eight months of the year compared to the same period in 2016, job increases were about 10,000 per month lower. That has translated into modest income increases, especially when adjusted for inflation.”
TDn2K expects Harvey and Irma to affect growth in the third quarter, “but the rebuilding should kick in during the fourth quarter and cause activity to reaccelerate.” And, thanks to the factors, the industry might not see normal growth again until early 2018.
On the labor front, TDn2K’s People Report Workforce Index shows that turnover rates could be moderating.
“In July, rolling 12-month turnover rates for hourly and management employees remained at the same levels as for the previous month. This is clearly good news—bad news. The turnover rates may be stabilizing, but they are still at historically high levels and are key factors in delivering consistent quality execution at the unit level. The outlook for September and the fourth quarter is uncertain,” the report says.